Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Perpetual Foreigner" and "American Enough"

The story's headline reads: Is New York Marathon Winner American Enough? The minute I saw that headline, I knew I'd be writing about it even though it doesn't have anything to do with adoption. It does, however, have everything to do with some naturalized citizens not being "American enough," and some birth-right citizens being "perpetual foreigners," too.
As soon as Mebrahtom Keflezighi, better known as Meb, won the New York City Marathon on Sunday, an uncommon sports dispute erupted online, fraught with racial and nationalistic components: Should Keflezighi’s triumph count as an American victory?

He was widely celebrated as the first American to win the New York race since 1982. Having immigrated to the United States at age 12, he is an American citizen and a product of American distance running programs at the youth, college and professional levels.

But, some said, because he was born in Eritrea, he is not really an American runner.
But even if he were born here, he might not be seen as "really" an American. Remember when Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan won gold and silver in 1998 Olympic figure skating? The headline announcing that read, "American Beats Kwan." Tara Lipinski, American. Michelle Kwan, not so much, despite the fact that she was born and raised in California.

The relevance of this to our children -- bearing the marks of perpetual foreignness, having been born abroad, being of Asian, Hispanic or African heritage -- is clear.


Maji said...
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Anonymous said...

I am an adoptive mom to a daughter that was born in China. My daughter has been with us for less than a year and we really have not yet experienced racial issues with her. However, I was born abroad and have been a naturalized American citizen for more than 15 years, and I can tell you that I get a comment or a question at least once a week about my nationality. Is it the accent, the color of my skin or just the fact that I was not born here? I don't know. I feel that I will be the "perpetual foreigner" no matter what I do.I was very aware of this issue before we adopted transracially and unfortunatly my daughter will most likely face these same comments and questions and all I can do is prepare her for them.

Wendy said...

Very relevent to our conversation. Thanks for posting. It seems there is no such thing as becoming an American, those who do are still seen as foreign.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Hello, will you take a look at firstmotherforum today and leave a a response? It's in response to a question from a woman who "inherited" a Chinese adoptee. thank. lorraine

mimifrancoise said...

I have been in the USA for over 50 years. Have been an American citizen for 45 years, but as soon as I open my mouth, I get "where are you from?" When I say that I am a Texan, peiple smile and say "No really?" I feel American. My husband says that I am more American than most Americans, but for others, I will always be a foreigner. That's the way it is, I do not lose any sleep over it.

Amy said...

A lot of people were not born here, including myself, and we all became American citizens. Some Americans were born here but their parents were born in another country. We are all from different places. That is what makes America one big melting pot. I consider him And myself American!!!

Lori said...

Just out of thoughts, random or not, but what difference does it make if anyone is not born here or not? After all, we are all Americans.

What I would like to know is how come no one has stated the obvious, talked about the elephant in the room. When we make names like African American, Native American, Asian American, for ourselves, do we not open the door for the ugliness of racism.

If we are all Americans, then would it matter if someone was brown, orange, blue, teal or whatever? Not really.

We should use terms like American - period, or American, from Oregon, or anything that has nothing to do with race, where you or your parents or great grands were born.

Maybe if we did, then all those lovely racists, self-righteous, I am right cause I am white, black, yellow, red, folks would take a hike back into their state of either ignorance is bliss, or simply grow up! (the latter being the hoped for response...not holding my breath.

We are, by what ever virtue, all Americans. Anyone that has a problem with it, needs to take a hike.

By the way, I like accents and will ask, simply because I like them, not because I think a person is not an American. I asked a good friend when I first met her - "Where do you originally come from" and the qualified "besides being American, since you have such a sweet accent (she is originally from Germany, and IS an American).

Wendy said...


It has been a long debate (and one I don't see ending soon) whether or not individuals should identify as X-American or just American. There are very valid and emotional arguments in both directions. Until ALL Americans see other Americans as such and treat ALL American with equality (namely POC or those with accents--really not valid as we all have some sort of accent depending on our part of the country) the need for/argument for hyphenation will continue.

Studying this veyr topic is not only fascinating, but one in which I think needs a closer look.

travelmom and more said...

"Nativist" sentiments have been prevalent in America since its inception. If you were born here (not Native American), many felt more entitled to land, jobs, political and economic power than those that followed in subsequent immigration waves. Race adds an additional dimension to our identity and how others view us. On Leno last night there as a joke about how an American won the NY marathon and the Kenyan's would have to be happy with the White House. Being from somewhere else or having a parent or grandparent from somewhere else is part of the American experience and I am not sure these arguments will ever go away. Will my daughter feel like an outsider her whole life; maybe, depending on what she identifies as insider or outsider, but maybe not.